God and Sinners, Reconciled!

Every year, we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel– God With Us. It is amazing to consider the Love of God that brought Him from His Heavenly throne to a lowly manger stall, the King of Glory contained in the tiny body of a sleepy infant.

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But we should be careful not to miss the rest of the story. As wonderful as it is to think that God would love His creation enough to visit among us, to “taste” life as a human, the story gets gloriously magnified as Jesus leaves the manger to enter a ministry. Jesus didn’t just live among us, He healed, taught, laughed, formed friendships, and served among people– many of whom scoffed, scorned, and rejected Him and His message.

And His message was this: God wants– in fact He passionately yearns– to restore the relationship WE have broken. Jesus didn’t come to “taste” human life– He came to GIVE His life as a sacrifice for those who didn’t deserve it, to extend forgiveness to those who had no right to ask for it. The Holy and Perfect God became the guilt and shame of Sin, so that we could be reconciled to Him. He accepted the penalty of Death, so that we could be given eternal life.

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This miracle of reconciliation can be difficult to understand. I sometimes get “stuck” in the weight of my past–I know that Christ offers forgiveness, but I sometimes act as though the penalty hasn’t been removed; only suspended. But that’s not what Jesus taught. Like a leper cured of leprosy, I am clean–no scars, no stains, no relapse–all traces of my disease removed. In this world, I will still feel the sting of the consequences of Sin– betrayal, sickness, injustice, even death. But death is no longer my destiny; it is a temporary rest stop on my way HOME.

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Jesus didn’t come to “taste” human life; He came to “taste” death– and He came to destroy its power, so that we could know true Life, and live it to the fullest!

Joy! Peace! Reconciliation! Eternity! Emmanuel!

The Weary World Rejoices…

We live in a weary world– weary of war, weary of chaos, weary of worry, and weary of sin and its consequences. From the time the alarm rings to the time we finally lay down our weary heads, we are bombarded by stress, misunderstandings, distractions, disappointments, questions, harsh words, harsh images, demands, doubts– I’m tired just listing them…

Even so, we are surrounded by promises (mostly false) of peace and rest, satisfaction and success. “Buy this!” “Try that!” “New!” “Improved!” The voices call out, offering temporary bliss, or temporary escape from the weariness all around. “Jingle Bells!” “Happy Holidays!” “Tidings of Comfort and Joy!” It is tempting to let Christmas become just like all the other worldly distractions–shiny, loud, stressful and fleeting, full of promise, but leaving us empty and cold in the end.

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But Christmas IS different, because it doesn’t celebrate what the world has to offer. The celebration includes lights and bells, songs and gifts, food and friends and family– but at its heart, Christmas celebrates something “out of this world!” Jesus came to a weary world long ago, and no matter how weary the world was, or is, or will be, Jesus brought all the hope and healing of Heaven in the small package of a tiny infant child in a crowded town in a conquered land.

On that Holy Night, God crashed the party– He did more than watch from a distance, more than speak from the skies above or send angel messengers–He arrived, actively participating in the struggle, the bone-weariness, the hunger and thirst and chill and stress of living among His fallen and fractured creation.

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And the weary world rejoices–can you hear it? Above the bustling noise of people shouting, and car horns blaring, and advertising slogans, and piped-in Christmas songs…Can you feel it–beyond the comfort of a warm blanket and hot cocoa, beyond the hugs of friends or the smiles of strangers or gifts from loved ones? Can you see it–beyond the glare of city lights, undimmed by the darkness of hatred and greed?

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The lights and songs will fade away, but the Love, Joy, and Peace of God that came to the world that first Christmas is for all time!

“Fall on your knees!
Oh, hear the angel voices,
‘O Night Divine. O Night, when Christ was born.
O Holy Night!'”

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Jesus Wept

It is the shortest verse in the entire Bible– St. John 11:35:  “Jesus wept.”  Only two words.  They are easily memorized; they are also easily overlooked or misrepresented.  Jesus wept over the death of his good friend Lazarus.

Read the story of Lazarus here.

Jesus wept–Emmanuel felt deep emotion and showed it.  God shed tears over the pain and sadness of a death; Messiah cried for the loss of his good friend.  Jesus was no stranger to sadness and loss– God understands the sharp sting of death.  God is compassionate, not heartless or cruel.  If we are in emotional turmoil, it is not because God doesn’t know our pain or doesn’t care.  He hurts WITH us in our times of deepest need.

girl in pink jacket on wooden bridge in the forest
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Jesus wept–People often ask the rhetorical question, “What would Jesus do?” when faced with a situation.  Here is an example of what Jesus did– he wept.  Sometimes, the “thing to do” is to acknowledge the reality of our situation–death hurts.  It brings out feelings of anger and even fear.  Death is scary.  It’s ugly, and it fills us with a sense of injustice, and a desire to wake up and find that death is just a very bad dream.  Aching loss, wracking sobs, feeling punched in the gut by circumstances– these are valid feelings and reactions.  To pretend otherwise or to deny ourselves or others the right to express those feelings does great harm, just as wallowing in sadness and remaining isolated in our grief can drag us into hopeless depression.

Jesus wept– period.  He didn’t punch a wall or point fingers at Mary and Martha for “letting” their brother die.  He didn’t try to justify his extra-long stay that kept him from arriving before his friend died.  Neither did he justify returning to a region where he was not “safe” from the authorities in order to comfort the sisters (and ultimately raise Lazarus back to life).  People often criticize Christians for “not doing enough” to erase hunger, cure diseases, or end poverty in the world.  Some even point out that Jesus, being God incarnate, had the power to do all of this during his earthly ministry.  But he didn’t.  As he was dying, he said, “It is finished.”  He wasn’t referring to some social revolution or economic program, or political movement that would abolish the oppression of the Roman Empire, or the corruption of the Pharisees, or end the slave trade.  That doesn’t mean that God approves of evil, corruption, and injustice.

But it means that Jesus’s mission was accomplished through what he did in life and through his sacrificial death.  He loved freely, healed those who were willing, and taught about the true character of his Heavenly Father.  He ate, and laughed, and slept; he burped and sweat, and cried.  He prayed and worshiped and worked and gave.  Jesus didn’t weep because he had no power to keep Lazarus from dying.  He proved that just minutes later.

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Jesus wept because he was showing us the very heart of God.  God’s heart is not to flex his sovereign muscles and demand our instant and abject obedience– though he has the perfect authority and right to do so.  His heart is to walk intimately with us, even when that walk goes through the very valley of the shadow of death!  God’s love isn’t flinty and cold.  It isn’t pushy and arrogant and selfish.  It is extravagant and gracious beyond all imagination.  It is raw agony and pure joy.

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What in your life causes you to weep?  What burdens and aches and frustrations and questions drive you to tears?  Jesus may not take away what hurts us, but he will never turn us away because we are scarred or scared or broken.  He will share our burdens, wipe our eyes, and hold us as we pour out our tears.

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